Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Libertarian Block Heads

There's has been a minor back and forth between Walter Block, Stephan Kinsella, me and some cc'd observers, in follow up to my recent post on natural rights.

As part of the email discussion, Dr. Block states the conditions under which he would respond to my views:
If Wenzel publishes his critique of my views in a refereed journal, I will respond; not otherwise (I’m a semi Nozickian on this issue).
Fair enough. I see occasional commentaries elsewhere on some of my views and it is near impossible to respond to them all. Unless I believe they are making a major point that I want to address or are published at an outlet where it will get lots of coverage, I refrain from a response, based merely on how I want to allocate my time.

I'm sure Dr. Block is in the same position. His career is related to the academic world and I suspect the large majority of his papers are refereed. It makes sense for him to allocate his time in the arenas he has chosen to work. It makes no sense for him to respond to my thinking on the subject unless my writing is in a refereed journal or so much attention is paid to something I write that he decides it is in his interest to respond. Time will tell how this all develops.

But the point of this post is not Dr. Block's ground rules for responding to my views on IP and natural rights. I want to talk about Dr. Block the person and his impact on my libertarian thinking.

Another post I made, earlier this week, referenced Dr. Block adding, as required reading for his college students, a post I wrote on minimum wages. I considered that an honor and posted the news. What I didn't publish was another email he sent me the same day, which I will now publish (I haven't asked his permission, but he is anti-IP protection, so I am working on the assumption he won't sue me):

Dear  Bob:

I’m a BIG admirer of yours. Can you please put me on your list of people who receive all copies of your blog?

Best regards,


Although, I did not publish this email, I did forward it to a friend. After reading this email, the friend then saw the post by me, less than 24-hours later, where I wrote ( a tiny bit tongue in cheek) that Dr. Block, in an interview with Stephan Kinsella, sounded like a central planner. The friend called to basically ask if I was nuts. Just 24 hours earlier Dr. Block had written a very kind email and there I was attacking his thinking on natural rights. But, I wasn't as concerned as my friend. I have been following Dr. Block's writings and his debates for many, many years. He is a seeker of truth. I knew he would accept my comment in the way I intended  it, as an attempt to explain in an honest fashion how I view natural rights differently.

The timing of my post and Dr. Block's email was coincidental. Although others had earlier emailed to me the clip of the Block-Kinsella discussion, I hadn't had time to listen to it. And then Dr. Block posted it at, just when I did have some free time to listen to it. As soon as I did, I thought it had applications to my view on natural rights and thus that post.

Getting back to the current email exchange, Dr. Block was kind enough to repeat to the email group (this is after my "Walter Block sounds like a central planner" post), "I’m a BIG fan of Bob’s."

Like I said, Dr. Block is thirsty for truth and considers debate from that perspective. I think he is a great role model.

After this second "BIG fan" email, I did email Dr. Block and tell him that I consider myself a "Block Head," by which I mean I am a big fan of his and it has resulted in my looking differently at the world. His thinking has influenced me greatly over the years. Indeed, as time goes on, I recognize the deeper significance of his writings. In October of last year I wrote:
One really has to think if he had not rushed to the defense of, from an economic and libertarian perspective, the prostitute, scab, slumlord, libeler, moneylender and others, would anyone else have, ever? It's a special kind of genius that can recognize such a gaping hole in theory and then on top of that make the defense of these "undefendables" look easy at a practical level. This is great thinking that makes an important contribution to society.

I believe that Friedrich Hayek meant every word when he wrote to Dr. Block about the book: 
Looking through Defending the Undefendable made me feel that I was once more exposed to the shock therapy by which, more than fifty years ago, the late Ludwig von Mises converted me to a consistent free market position. … Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do them good even if they hate it. A real understanding of economics demands that one disabuses oneself of many dear prejudices and illusions. Popular fallacies in economic frequently express themselves in unfounded prejudices against other occupations, and showing the falsity of these stereotypes you are doing a real services, although you will not make yourself more popular with the majority.
In other words, I urge you to read Defending the Undefendable. It is the type of book that will change the way you view the world, and it could turn you into a "Block Head," resulting in your defending all sorts of undefendables and becoming a better person because of it


  1. Just wanted to stand up and be counted as a Block Head. "He's got guts, and guts is enough!"

  2. Add me to the Block Head list. "Defending the Undefendable" changed my intellectual perspective like nothing else ever has.

  3. The problem I have with using "natural" rights as the base of libertarianism/anarchy is that it creates a requirement that need not be.

    If one believes in the theory of natural rights he may fail to recognize the problem it causes for those who do not.

    One can be a fine libertarian/anarchist without holding that particular believe and live in complete harmony with those who do. All that is required is the agreement that certain rights hold sway, not the manner in which they were born.

    In other words, the theory of natural rights as a solution to the ownership problem creates a bigger problem than it solves.

    1. Care to fluff this out a bit? What problems are created by natural rights theory?

  4. This episode also shows that--contra Krugman, O'Reilly, et al--it IS possible for rational people to disagree without being disagreeable.

  5. The only two people I've ever gotten an autograph from are Michael Jordan and Walter Block. He is a legend in my book.

  6. "All that is required is the agreement that certain rights hold sway, not the manner in which they were born."

    But is that not the issue? When there is disagreement then it leads to war. The issue is when that war is justified.

    Thus, the dichotomy between natural and designed rights. Humans are either endowed by their Creator with rights (natural) or rights are granted (designed) as part of the political plan. If one accepts the premise that rights are granted as part of the political plan then they must accept the corollary that they can be denied as part of the political plan.

    Where is the flaw in the logic?

    1. Well, in order to accept that natural rights are endowed by a creator one is forced to accept of the validity of a creator. If that floats your boat good on you. But if you don't base your beliefs on someone else's use of force then you have a problem.

      We know people in groups form rules of acceptable behavior. Nothing more is required to be believed.

      That's the philosophic difference. The practical differences are far too complex to detail in a blog post.

    2. Only natural rights don't have to be endowed by a creator. This goes back as far as Grotius: